In response to two winter storms earlier this month that brought subfreezing temperatures and historic snowfall, the Seattle Human Services Department (HSD), in partnership with Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR), implemented its winter weather emergency response plan by opening four severe weather shelters in the course of five days. The shelters at Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion, Garfield and Bitter Lake Community Centers, and City Hall could accommodate 239 guests. More than 80 individuals were referred into permanent shelter or hotel rooms following the emergency winter weather response.
On Sunday, February 14, the final day of the winter weather event, these shelters served 216 individuals, keeping them safe and protected from the elements. That night, an additional 15 people stayed at the new 60-bed permanent women’s shelter at First Presbyterian Church, which opened on Friday, February 12.
“Through freezing temperatures and historic snowfall, our City’s essential workers were in the field clearing streets, providing power and, most crucially, ensuring our neighbors experiencing homelessness could come into safer spaces. Our service providers, Seattle Fire’s Health One, City Light, Parks and Recreation, and Human Services employees ventured out to provide a lifeline and resources to our unsheltered residents. This work saved lives, creating a pathway to permanent shelter for more than 80 individuals in need. In the coming weeks, new shelter resources are coming online that will help hundreds more individuals advance on the path towards permanent housing,” said Mayor Jenny A. Durkan.
All four severe weather sites eventually were 24-hours and overnight guests could remain in shelters during the day. The Salvation Army was the overnight operator at Fisher Pavilion and City Hall with the Compass Housing Alliance operating these shelters during the day. The Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) was the operator for the community center locations, with additional staffing support from HSD and SPR. City Hall shelter was opened in partnership with King County.
“COVID-19’s ongoing impacts to the City’s shelter system has stretched staff thin. Setting up multiple short-term shelters quickly, and providing 24/7 services, increase these stressors,” said Helen Howell, Interim Director of HSD. “I want to thank the providers helping set up our severe weather emergency response. The Salvation Army, LIHI, Compass Housing Alliance, and also our provider partners throughout our shelter system, who provide essential services each night to over 2,000 of our houseless neighbors. I also want to thank the Mayor for her leadership, our dedicated HSD staff that worked around-the-clock, and our many City Department and King County partners.”
Three meals a day were provided through the duration of operations at these temporary shelters by OSL (formerly Operation Sack Lunch). Showers were available for guests at Fisher Pavilion and Bitter Lake and Garfield community centers. City Hall shelter and the community center shelters were able to accommodate pets and service animals.
The temporary shelter spaces met COVID-19 safety protocols recommended by Public Health-Seattle & King County and the Centers for Disease Control which calls for COVID-19 screening for guests, expanded space to allow physical distancing, hygiene access, and increased sanitation guidelines.
“Compass Housing Alliance was glad that it could help provide staffing for the winter severe weather response during last week’s cold and snow,” said Mary Steele, Executive Director of Compass Housing Alliance. “Through our work in providing shelter and hygiene services, we see every day how the difficulties of living outside affect our neighbors who do not have housing. In extreme weather, these difficulties escalate and can quickly become lethal. We appreciate the ability to serve our neighbors in this way.”
On Monday, February 15, the last day the shelters were open, Fisher Pavilion and City Hall shelters extended their hours of operation from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. to allow individuals additional time to stay indoors and find alternative shelter solutions. Exit referrals were coordinated between the two sites by Compass Housing Alliance in partnership with the HSD, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, The Salvation Army, WHEEL, and other community organizations, resulting in approximately 70 referrals to permeant shelter and hotels.
Additionally, the HOPE Team made 13 referrals into permanent shelter from Bitter Lake and Garfield community centers prior to closure. Seattle City Light (SCL) provided three buses and they, along with SPR and HOPE Team staff, transported the guests from the community centers to permanent shelters such as Otto’s Place, the Navigation Center, and Exhibition Hall.
In freezing temperatures, Mary’s Place, a city contracted service provider, does not turn away any family calling for shelter. They reached out to 89 families, offering shelter and, for the first time, referrals into hotels due to Mary’s Place shelters being at capacity. They worked with families to develop safety plans and provide items for the severe winter weather, such as sleeping bags, blankets, and hygiene kits. They problem solved with clients to expedite their housing plans resulting in six families exiting to housing during the weather event.
Seattle Fire’s Health One program operated during the snow storm from Friday, February 12, at 8 a.m. to Sunday, February 14, at 8 a.m., and made approximately 90 individual contacts. Over these two days, the units facilitated 18 shelter transports (either in a Health One rig or via the HOPE team), one hospital transport and four transports via AMR. They provided numerous individuals with hot beverages, food and warm clothing.
From Wednesday, February 10, through the end of the severe weather event, the HOPE Team, in partnership with SPR’s Encampment Team, performed welfare checks, provided winter weather and basic needs supplies, and coordinated rides to severe weather shelters. SPR loaned passenger vans to the HOPE Team who, with additional support from SPR and SCL employees, and in coordination with Health One, provided transportation for individuals experiencing homelessness to temporary shelters.
During the winter storm, the HOPE Team and SPR:
- Conducted 380 welfare checks
- Shared information with 310 individuals about the temporary severe weather shelters
- Provided 277 individuals winter supplies (hats, gloves, hand warmers, etc.)
- Provided basic needs supplies (water, snacks, etc.) to 237 people and,
- Transported 42 individuals to temporary shelter
Areas visited by the HOPE Team include, but are not limited to SODO, Georgetown, Beacon Hill, Ballard, Lake City, Downtown, Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, University District, Belltown, and Chinatown-International District.